Books: Modern Nerves

THOMAS HARDY by Michael Millgate Random House; 637pages; $25

It was the destiny of Thomas Hardy, a quiet little man whose principal excitement consisted of a bicycle ride followed by afternoon tea, to remind his fellow Victorians of an England darker and madder than anything in literature since Lear roamed the heath. The novelist made contemporary by film (Tess) and television (The Mayor of Casterbridge) was born in 1840 in a remote Dorset village. There, farmers, shepherds and artisans lived in a kind of Elizabethan time warp. But something dour and reductive...

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